How to Pick the Right Webhost

Shari Thurow offers guidelines to make sure you pick the RIGHT hosting company for your website.

I have been reading many posts about finding the cheapest web host. In fact, I just received a spam mail offering hosting for as little as $5.99/month. (I promptly deleted it.) Since I used to work as an online marketing manager at an ISP/web host and had to know the "sales pitch" like the back of my hand, I would like to offer some advice on searching for a web host.

First, and most important, just because a web host is cheap or inexpensive does not mean that host is reliable. In fact, if I see hosting for less than $20, I'd have some huge concerns. If a company is offering hosting so cheaply, the most reasonable way the hosting company plans to make a profit is to sell large volumes of hosting services. This, my friends, might not be in your (or your businesses') best interest.

Some questions you need to ask a potential web host:

How many servers do you have? How many web sites do you put on each server? How much traffic will a site have to attain before you move it to another, less populated server? What kinds of servers do you have, and how many of each type?

It is very important to ask those first 2 questions. For all you know, your "cheap" web host just might have a single server inside his or her apartment. A business cannot risk this type of hosting. If that one server goes down (and servers do need maintenance and rebooting), your site will be down. So your host needs to have back-up servers, preferably more than one. You will also need to ask your host how often they perform back-ups on all of their servers. At least once every 24 hours is a reasonable answer.

As for how many web sites per server, you are not looking for a high number here. AND that number will depend on what types of web sites are on the servers. In fact, I disqualified one of the companies on the Top Host List because they kept 1,000 sites on one server. A 10-page static site (HTML only) with a contact form (using a CGI-script) will probably not take too much space on a server. A commerce site (with shopping cart, credit card processing, etc.) will take up more server space.

(Please note that I am generalizing in this post because the amount of space a site takes on a server really does depend on the types of web sites, number of graphics, scripts run, and traffic to the sites on the server. So a thorough discussion with a potential web host is in order before selecting one.)

Also, you do not want your site to be on the same server as a high-traffic web site. Likewise, you don't want to share your server with 1,000 other sites that have medium traffic. What you are looking for in a web host is a group that will balance the high traffic, commerce sites (keeping them on dedicated servers or only a few of these per server) and low-medium-high traffic static sites. If a web site suddenly becomes popular, a good web host will move that site to a less populated server to accommodate the host's other customers.

As for different types of servers, that can depend on the type of software you are using (such as supporting FrontPage extensions) and the types of scripts you wish to run. For example, our web host uses Microsoft NT servers, and the script written to process our order forms will not work on a Unix server. Some web hosts will allow you to write your own scripts and use them on their servers; some will not. (You will find that hosting costs will increase if you want to use your own scripts or shopping cart software.)

A potential red flag with any host is the word "unlimited." Let me put it this way, hosts use the word "unlimited" in their advertising to attract customers. I even called my ISP who used "unlimited" in its advertising but really meant "200 hours," knowing that people don't usually need 200 hours of dial-up access. Thus, always ask what "unlimited" means to a web host/ISP because it rarely means "unlimited."

I hope some of these guidelines help, and I also hope some people who are more technically educated than I will contribute to some of these guidelines.

The bottom line is to select a web host and ISP that is best for your business. Not everyone needs FrontPage capabilities or a shopping cart, and you need to find a host and ISP who can provide you with service and features that you need for a current and future web site.

Shari Thurow is a well-known consultant and web designer. You may contact her by email at info@grantasticdesigns.com.

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